North Sea helicopter tracking system launched

A new tracking system that helps helicopters to make the hazardous flight to and from North Sea oil and gas platforms more safely has gone live.

Previously, helicopters would be lost to shore-based radars 80 miles from land. The new multilateration system enables helicopter position to be displayed to air-traffic controllers on their radar display for the entirety of flights, reducing the risk of collisions with other aircraft and providing details of location in the event of an accident.

‘This is a major step forward for safety, as we can offer a traffic service to aircraft in the North Sea and pinpoint helicopters in emergency situations,’ said John Mayhew, general manager of NATS, which provides the UK’s air-navigation service.

The improved safety measures come in the wake of a fatal accident last April, in which all 16 passengers died after a helicopter went down 35 miles off the Aberdeenshire coast. The now-disbanded Helicopter Task Group was formed to address industry issues around helicopter safety resulting from that incident and others, helping to expedite the delivery of the multilateration system.

The system works by using signal transmitters and receivers fitted to 16 offshore oil and gas platforms in the central area of the North Sea, to track and identify individual helicopters across 25,000 square miles of sea, in real time. When a helicopter leaves the 80-mile shore-based radar zone, its transponder responds to an interrogation signal sent from a platform, which is then sent back and detected by receivers on each of the four platforms in a cluster.

Robert Paterson, Oil and Gas UK’s health, safety and employment issues director, said he was pleased to see the system go live.

‘This is a considerable step forward in helicopter safety and typifies the sterling work done by the Helicopter Task Group – to drive important safety-related projects to a successful conclusion,’ Paterson said.